It’s a balance, healthy kids versus safe kids, health adults versus safe adults, polluted air versus clean air or more importantly, personal choice versus you telling me what to do.

Study from Sweden looks at the effects of cycling after a 2005 law requiring children to wear helmets while riding bikes.

This article came from a study by the Swedish Association of Transportation Planners. The article, What happens when you mandate helmet-wearing among young Swedish cyclists? is based on the study.

These are quotes from the article. Emphasize in bold is mine.

Mandatory helmet laws have been controversial in that they seem to have a limited effect on the number of head injuries, if at all, but instead are correlated with a decrease in cycling numbers.

Graph 1 shows the number of head injuries as a share of injuries to all parts of the body. The downward sloping lines indicate that head injuries are falling faster than other injuries.



As we can see there does not seem to be a difference between the trends of the different modes, suggesting that if there is any fall in the share of head injuries it is likely to be an effect of something that also applies to other or all road users.

However there does seem to be another effect of helmet laws, namely a decline in cycling among school children. In 1983 57% of children aged 7-9 had permission from their parents to bike to school without adult companion, and for the age group 10-12, 94% had such permission. By the year 2007 this had decreased to 25% and 79% respectively. Bearing in mind, the helmet law was introduced in 2005, we can’t be sure of a correlation, because the data consists of surveys from 1983 and then 2007. But we do also have data recording that the share of school journeys by bicycle fell from 33% in 2006 one year after the legislation to 29% in year 2012. The evidence does suggest that the effect of the helmet law primarily is that fewer children bike to school.


So the data does show a decline in cycling, but without annual surveys it’s hard to be sure of a correlation. However, a Danish report made the same link between declining cycling to school and helmet promotion and safety/scare campaigns. They determined that half the decline in cycling was caused by these campaigns, and half was caused by other factors such as more car traffic and longer distances to school.

From my perspective, laws telling me how to live don’t work, and this study shows that. Whether I wear a helmet is more personal issue that I should be allowed to decide.

More importantly, cycling increases the cyclist’s health, decreases air pollution and general promotes health. That is a greater benefit to all of us then the individual benefit of forcing someone to do something they may or may not want to do.

See: What happens when you mandate helmet-wearing among young Swedish cyclists?

Other Articles about this subject:

Bike Share programs flourish when helmets are not required              

Study shows that head injuries are on the rise on the slopes even though more people are wearing helmets                                                                                                            

Law requires helmets, injuries down fatalities up?                                 

Great editorial questioning why we need laws to “protect” us from ourselves.

Survey of UK physicians shows them against mandatory bicycle helmet laws.

Recent UK poll shows that 10% of cyclists would quite biking if there was a compulsory helmet law.  





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By Recreation Law         James H. Moss

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